Sunday, February 22, 2015

Canadian Security Intelligence Service - Civilian Oversight Overhaul

The issue of CSIS and oversight is a concern. The push for immediate political oversight is impractical and the present circumstance of only retrospective assessment is inadequate. There is requirement to reconfigure oversight functionality so that it can be “real time” and absent political influence.  

The oversight entity should be composed of past political participants, past judicial participants and operational personnel. There should be a maximum two year term per individual and terms should have alternating termination years.  The size of the entity, beyond operational personnel, should be five people and three would represent a functional quorum.

Appointments to the oversight entity should be done through a joint Commons & Senate committee chaired by the sitting government, with partisanship participation determined on a prorated basis of the House of Commons sitting configuration.   

While one realizes that we must permit personnel to function as freely as possible under their respective and legislated mandates, given the nature of the endeavor gray areas are encountered and when they are, civilian oversight should be activated prior to actions being taken. The oversight function would be actuated at the request of operations, that is to say, when operations encounter a situation that pushes up against civil liberty concerns or privacy concerns, the oversight entity would be activated to extend authority to proceed or not. This proactive oversight would then be augmented with retrospective oversight of general operations as well.  
The presence of experienced Judiciaries in the mix of the oversight entity would permit action to be taken with what would be “in effect” a court order. This would allow for expeditious execution and a means by which to “circumvent” the cumbersome aspects of the judicial process. The CISI organization functions in a space of highly sophisticated antagonists, who know how to function in a damaging way more or less in plain sight – our legal system is their shield. When CISI finds themselves in this circumstance we need an entity that can sanction activities necessary for the preservation of our dominion over territory and national interests. The “organizational judgment” as to the appropriate response to a threat, the degree of threat, and the magnitude of threat – would lie with the oversight entity.
CISI needs to be our protection from ourselves as well as exterior threat. Given it may find itself investigating members of government for corruption, there must be a firewall between the organization and the active political space. The oversight group needs to be small, to facilitate security and to facilitate an adequate degree of adroitness. A configuration of the type of entity outlined above would provide both the adroitness required to react and the comfort that learned patriots are protecting our rights.


When designing any government structure, especially a government structure like an intelligence oversight system, one must ensure that a concentration of power is avoided. The prospect of a single entity overseeing all intelligence agencies in Canada is a serious concern. You need to effect a circumstance where one agency is a safeguard against the other. All intelligence agencies require civilian oversight, but separate oversight - RCMP, Military etc require their own. There can be siloed oversight and operational co-operation, the important thing is to maintain operational autonomy.  

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